Books

Trading Reality For Theater, For A While

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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My favorite time in a theater is just when the lights go down. It’s usually only a few seconds before the curtain goes up or the music begins, but that tiny moment is when the audience is filled with anticipation and takes the transformative step from reality to imagination. Many directors — Diane Paulus, for instance — are blurring that starting line so theatergoers will make fewer distinctions between art and life. Bravo to all that!

But I have to confess I’m nostalgic about those distinctions. Frankly, sometimes I need a moment to breathe between life and art. That’s what the popular musical The Drowsy Chaperone is about: the moment we surrender reality. The show starts in the dark with a man in a chair sitting alone and talking about his disappointment with theater. He prays to god before every show that it will be entertaining, short and not break the fourth wall. Amen.

I saw Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway in 2006 and then again recently at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company, and both times I found myself cheering for this pathetic man who complains about the intrusions of reality in moments of art: A cell phone ringing, for instance. Or the power going off. His agoraphobic anxieties about modern life and his failure at marriage and intimacy are allayed by only one thing. Well, maybe two: A glass of brandy and listening to an old LP of a 1928 musical with superficial characters, a formulaic score and a ridiculous plot. And yet the show transports him from the misery of his shabby apartment and unfulfilled life to the glamour and glory of stars who have white teeth and tap dance. The cast magically materializes in his living room and sings its way through silly problems and zany stunts.

I asked Bob Martin, who co-wrote the musical and originated the role, if the show is a surreal moment or a figment of the chair man's imagination. In other words, is the play really happening in the man’s apartment or just in his mind? Martin was reluctant to answer. But he did tell me that every night after he performed Man in Chair, someone was waiting for him at the stage door to say: I am that guy. I am Man in Chair.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that as we read we must “become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner.” We must “fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.”

In some way, all of us who give ourselves over to art are that man in the chair. Drowsy Chaperone is one of the smartest, funniest and saddest musicals ever written. It is also about the triumph of imagination. We may not get what we want out of life — or theater — but a great work of art can literally lift us out of a chair and make us feel we deserve the love we failed at, or walked away from, and that we, too, are stars.

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By Arthur Smith   |   Tuesday, July 26, 2011
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For Colored Girls

By Kim McLarin   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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Well, I saw it. Lots of reaction. Short version: not as terrible as I feared (and yes, I hate to admit that). But I walked out of the theater feeling as if I had been bludgeoned for two hours. What redeemed it was the astonishing language (Ntozake's) and the performances (which were terrific, almost-uniformly great). I was happy to pay my little 'leven-fifty to support so many beautiful black actresses on the screen. And Perry is definitely growing as a filmmaker, getting all fancy with his shots. Clearly he means well, and wants to celebrate black women (especially Janet Jackson. Can he get off his teenage crush already? The woman cannot act! What was with the Kabuki makeup? And why did Loretta's wig look so awful? Why did she look so bad in general? Poor Loretta ....)

Still I found myself wishing, wishing, wishing someone else had made it, someone who didn't seem to see black womanhood as one, long, joyless, relentless slog of bad choices and victimhood (self-inflicted, to be sure) and abuse. Someone who would not have missed the ultimate joy and affirmation in the original, nor completely denied the frank celebration of a black woman's sexual power in the original (in the movie, sex=death. Period). Someone who didn't think drama=melodrama. I mean, good Lord -- I really did feel beat up by the end. I kept thinking "She didn't mean for the audience to consider suicide, yo!" That was not the feeling I think the play left people with. At least not me.

I think the movie probably stands up better for those who don't know the original, which is legitimate. And, as the bookseller I saw the movie with said, this will drive people to the text (though probably not the folks in the audience howling at every word out of Whoopi's mouth). So, all in all, go on Tyler, with your bold self. Next time, though, please, let someone else write it while you direct?

Edward Gorey: Suitably Sinister at the Athenaeum

By Kara Miller   |   Monday, July 25, 2011
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Boston—WGBH Contributor Kara Miller gets charmed and a little bit spooked by “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey,” a show of the late illustrator’s original drawings on display at the Boston Athenaeum through June 4.

When I was little, my mother would say that "A is for apple, B is for bear." Artist Edward Gorey, apparently, taught the alphabet somewhat differently.
His 1963 book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies: Or, After the Outing, explains that "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears." At my house, by contrast, the bears leaned more towards Teddy than grizzly.
But Gorey's lovely, dark drawings -- carefully inked with his signature fine lines -- motor right through the alphabet, heaping calamities on one unfortunate child after the other: "U is for Una who slipped down a drain. V is for Victor squashed under a train."
Gashlycrumbis one of more than 180 original Gorey drawings on display at the Athenaeum, in a show organized by the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA and already presented there, in San Antonio, and Orlando.
Gorey’s works are an alternate universe, but one definitely at home in the exhibit hall: massive columns and purple walls form a backdrop for the delicate drawings, with their drolly sinister content: animals who show up for dinner parties, men wearing bowlers and long Victorian skirts, and titles like The Fatal Lozenge andThe Blue Aspic.
What the viewer learns is that Gorey’s vision -- familiar to many from his designs for the WGBH/PBS series MasterpieceMystery!-- was long in the making. After an auspicious start as a child artist and a stint in the military, Gorey arrived at Harvard and began tucking his letters home to his mother in Chicago into intricately-painted envelopes. Beautiful, but also macabre: one features a man about to be strangled.
Staring out from their display cases in the Athenaeum, these rare Harvard envelopes -- like so much in Gorey's 100 books, stage designs, and illustrations--immerses brilliance in darkness.
"Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey," Through June 4, 2011, Boston Athenaeum, 10-1/2 Beacon Street, Boston, MA. Admission $5. More information, including hours, at http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/node/150
 

 
 
From The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey. © 2011 The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, part of the Athenaeum exhibit up through June 4.

Turn Your Obsession into a Party Game with The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book

By Stacy Buchanan   |   Monday, October 22, 2012
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“I remember rummaging in the basement and liked the scary stuff on the covers.  At first, I stuck to the stories in Night Shift but soon picked up The Bachman Books.  It was comforting for me to know that there were other people out there with weird ideas in their heads. And of course, then I read it and became a fan for life.”

That’s Kevin Quigley, writer and die-hard Stephen King fan. Since discovering the literary genius of King in the early ‘80s, Quigley has dedicated his writing life to studying King’s craft and has most recently joined fellow authors Brian James Freeman and Hans-Åke Lilja to release The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book, a testament to all of King’s movie work and one guaranteed to make your head spin.

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How Three Minutes Changed a Father's Life

By The Emily Rooney Show   |   Friday, May 18, 2012
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May 18, 2012

buzz

Author Buzz Bissinger visited the WGBH studios to talk about his new memoir, Father's Day: A Journey into the Heart and Mind of My Extraordinary Son, chronicling a road trip he took with his special-needs son, Zach. (Photo: Annie Shreffler)

BOSTON — Buzz Bissinger knew from the minute his son Zach was born, the second of twin boys to be born prematurely and weighing in at just over a pound, that he was faced with the challenge of getting to know the kind of son he never expected or wanted.

"In some ways this book is about three minutes," Bissinger said, explaining that because Zach was deprived of oxygen and suffered brain damage, his family's life was changed instantly. 

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About the Authors
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead

Arthur Smith Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form.  Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center. 
Kim McLarin Kim McLarin
Kim McLarin is the author of the critically-acclaimed novels Taming it Down, Meeting of the Waters and Jump at the Sun, all published by William Morrow. She is a former staff writer for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Greensboro News & Record and the Associated Press. McLarin has also written for TheRoot.com and Salon.com.
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

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Stacy Buchanan Stacy Buchanan
Stacy is California born and raised, and happily living in Boston.  By day, she’s a seasoned digital marketer, social media enthusiast and pop culture consumer. After studying special effects makeup and film for over 20 years, she is also full-time film buff and by night, produces content for horror publications, focusing on classic and contemporary horror films.

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